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The Tao of 
Holding Space 

81 short chapters on 
facilitating Open Space 

by Chris Corrigan 

Chris Corrigan 


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Too Te Ching text from: 

Too Te Ching - Written by Lao-Tzu 

A Translation 


by j.h.mcdonald 



The tao that can be described 
is not the eternal Tao. 
The name that can be spoken 
is not the eternal Name. 

The nameless is the boundary of Heaven and Earth. 
The named is the mother of creation. 

Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery. 
By having desire, you can only see what is visibly 

Yet mystery and reality 
emerge from the same source. 
This source is called darkness. 

Darkness born from darkness. 
The beginning of all understanding. 

Harrison Owen wrote that "holding space" 
is an act that is at once totally present and 
totally invisible. It is, like the Tao, an 
activity that is characterized by paradox. 

Holding space is about resting in the trust 
that self-organization, that force which 
created the universe and brought us to this 
point, will continue to work its magic. To 
prepare yourself to submit to the power of 
self-organization, you must let go of 
outcomes. You must breathe life into the 
principle that "whatever happens is the 
only thing that could have happened." We 
learn to let our desires fall away and 
confront what is present in the space, and 
what is real and living before us. 

To hold space is to rest in the chaos that is 
darkness; a darkness that represents a vast 
field of unknown potential. It is this field 
that you are inviting to hum. From this 
field understanding will blossom, light will 
emerge, possibilities will grow. 

Opposites creating 

When people see things as beautiful, 
ugliness is created. 
When people see things as good, 
evil is created. 

Being and non-being produce each other. 
Difficult and easy complement each other. 
Long and short define each other. 
High and low oppose each other. 
Fore and aft follow each other. 

Therefore the Master 

can act without doing anything 

and teach without saying a word. 

Things come her way and she does not stop them; 

things leave and she lets them go. 

She has without possessing, 

and acts without any expectations. 

When her work is done, she takes no credit. 

That is why it will last forever. 

Non-doing defines doing. Sitting in 
stillness invites people to move. Getting 
out of the way allows people to fill space 
with their passion. Letting go of 
expectations leaves room for responsibility 
to come forth. All of this is integrity. Every 
piece of doing requires the strong presence 
of non-doing to anchor it. 

Stifling every impulse to intervene, to give 
directions and orders leaves space for 
others to design their lives. You can create 
a container and then stand by and watch it 
fill and teem with life. You don't resist the 
natural movements of groups of people co- 
creating their futures. Instead you work on 
your own inability to be still, to want to 
own the outcomes, to want to invest your 

This is not your show. You are holding 
space, embodying space and being empty 
and full at the same time. If they thank you 
in the closing circle, you have not done 


No acclaim 

If you overly esteem talented individuals, 
people will become overly competitive. 
If you overvalue possessions, 
people will begin to steal. 

Do not display your treasures 
or people will become envious. 

The Master leads by 

emptying people's minds, 

filling their bellies, 

weakening their ambitions, 

and making them become strong. 

Preferring simplicity and freedom from desires, 

avoiding the pitfalls of knowledge and wrong action. 

For those who practice not-doing, 
everything will fall into place. 

We begin with people in a circle. There are 
no names, not titles, no ranks or 
descriptions. Just a circle of people, being a 
circle together. 

They gaze at one another. Invited to sweep 
the circle with their eyes, note who is here 
and contemplate what they know and what 
they don't know. 

It is not your job at this point to say that 
you have credentials. It is not your job to 
seek approval from them. You simply walk 
the circle, inviting eyes to connect, inviting 
hearts to meet in the empty space you are 
about to hold. 


The Tao is like an empty container: 

it can never be emptied and can never be filled. 

Infinitely deep, it is the source of all things. 

It dulls the sharp, unties the knotted, 

shades the lighted, and unites all of creation with 


It is hidden but always present. 
I don't know who gave birth to it . 
It is older than the concept of God. 

It is called "Open Space." The centre is 
empty except for a few tools. These tools 
are all that is needed to completely fill the 

Blank sheets of paper are open to any 
possibility. Entirely new worlds can be 
created out of this emptiness. Great 
quantities of unknown energy can coalesce 
around the invitation to step into the full 
emptiness and give birth to the new. 

You are holding this space. You have all of 
creation in your hands, like a delicate glass 
ball. You must simply allow it to rest there, 
and let the people draw on the echoes 
planted in their genes, and continue the 
journey of evolution together. 


Heaven and Earth are impartial; 

they treat all of creation as straw dogs. 

The Master doesn't take sides; 

she treats everyone like a straw dog. 

The space between Heaven and Earth is like a 


it is empty, yet has not lost its power. 

The more it is used, the more it produces; 

the more you talk of it, the less you comprehend. 

It is better not to speak of things you do not 


What can you possibly say? 

In a room of twenty people there are XX 
millions of possibilities. How can you 
evaluate them? As they engage in action, 
who can say that there is a better way? 

We dance around the stunning vibrancy of 
energy filling the space. We cannot know 
what will happen, and as we watch it 
unfold, we cannot judge it's efficacy. The 
more energy that falls into the centre, the 
more energy the centre produces. Passion 
flooding into the middle inspires 
passionate engagement on the edges. 

It is your job to marvel as it happens all 
around you. Someone must sit in non- 
judgment and hold forth the belief that all 
possibilities may exist. 

Spirit of emptiness 

The spirit of emptiness is immortal. 

It is called the Great Mother 

because it gives birth to Heaven and Earth. The middle of the space is empty. It is 

it is like a vapor itself, the space of invitation, a space of 

barely seen but always present. possibility, a space that gives rise to any 

Use it effortlessly. , ,. , _,. ,, 

potential, any direction, any result. 

Open Space is a way of navigating 
everything and nothing. Holding space is 
the art of being completely present, and 
totally invisible. 


The Tao of Heaven is eternal, 
and the earth is long enduring. 
Why are they long enduring? 
They do not live for themselves; 
thus they are present for all beings. 

The Master puts herself last; 

And finds herself in the place of authority. 

She detaches herself from all things; 

Therefore she is united with all things. 

She gives no thought to self. 

She is perfectly fulfilled. 

Long enduring 

This is the pure practice of servant 
leadership. You have nothing to offer in 
terms of direction, only a container to hold 
and a will to manifest. You place yourself 
outside the circle, get out of the way when 
the marketplace opens and you find that 
the group manages itself. 

You stay away to the side, observe with 
compassion but remain detached from the 
outcome. You trust the people, the process, 
the great truth unfolding, and find yourself 
folding in to the emergence which is 
springing out all around you. 

No competition 

The supreme good is like water, 
which benefits all of creation 
without trying to compete with it. 
It gathers in unpopular places. 
Thus it is like the Tao. 

The location makes the dwelling good. 
Depth of understanding makes the mind good. 
A kind heart makes the giving good. 
Integrity makes the government good. 
Accomplishments makes your labors good. 
Proper timing makes a decision good. 

Only when there is no competition 
will we all live in peace. 

What we want is to facilitate the flow of 
collaboration. Your role is to care for the 
small intangibles, the space, the quality of 
the invitation, the integrity of the offering. 

There may be conflicting ideas and 
contrasting statements. There may be heat 
between participants. But if there is truly 
an open space, then all of this can be 
accommodated. Opposites can meet on the 
same agenda, collaboration can be invited, 
transcendent ideas can come forward. 

The open space is the place that frees 
participants from the need to beat each 
other. All they are left with then is the 
invitation to work. 


Walk away 

It is easier to carry an empty cup 
than one that is filled to the brim. 

The sharper the knife 
the easier it is to dull. 
The more wealth you possess 
the harder it is to protect. 
Pride brings it's own trouble. 

When you have accomplished your goal 

simply walk away. 

This is the path way to Heaven. 

When the space has been opened, and the 
people are working, Harrison tells us to 
pick up coffee cups. We can care for the 
space at the same time as we are reminded 
that carrying emptiness is easier than trying 
to fit everything into the cup. 

And when the event is over, walk away 
and let the people embrace each other, 
share their comments with one another, 
exchange smiles and astonishment. It is 
their work, and you have held space for it 
and that is all. All that is left to do is to 
walk away. 



Nurture the darkness of your soul 

until you become whole. 

Can you do this and not fail? 

Can you focus your life-breath until you become 

supple as a newborn child? 

While you cleanse your inner vision 

will you be found without fault? 

Can you love people and lead them 

without forcing your will on them? 

When Heaven gives and takes away 

can you be content with the outcome? 

When you understand all things 

can you step back from your own understanding? 

Giving birth and nourishing, 
making without possessing, 
expecting nothing in return. 
To grow, yet not to control: 
This is the mysterious virtue. 

Grow, not control 

You are being asked to do something that 
seems so counterintuitive that at first blush 
it also seems impossible. There is nothing 
to direct, no expertise to share, and no way 
you can take credit for what has happened. 
Whatever happens is the only thing that 
could have. 

To do this you need to be clear, to 
understand that whatever gets made is not 
yours, and however people feel is not a 
result of you. When you see the pattern 
emerge, you must simply let it emerge and 
let everyone else discover it to.o After all, 
that is how you got started doing this. 

You have tilled the ground in which the 
people have planted seeds. What has 
grown is theirs. 



Thirty spokes are joined together in a wheel, 

but it is the center hole 

that allows the wheel to function. 

We mold clay into a pot, 
but it is the emptiness inside 
that makes the vessel useful. 

We fashion wood for a house, 
but it is the emptiness inside 
that makes it livable. 

We work with the substantial, 
but the emptiness is what we use. 

Using emptiness 

Open Space works because of the space in 
the middle, the empty, open invitation to 
action. As you walk the circle to open 
space, sometimes you might want to walk 
in lines across the middle of the circle, to 
invite people to come forward out of their 
chairs, to transit the face of emptiness and 
begin filling their container with ideas. 

But there is another emptiness to cultivate 
and that is the emptiness within you. Free 
of expectation, free of attachments to 
outcomes, you can be the best example to 
the participants of using emptiness to work 
with substance. 



Five colors blind the eye. 

Five notes deafen the ear. 

Five flavors makes the palate go stale. 

Too much activity deranges the mind. 

Too much wealth causes crime. 

The Master acts on what she feels 

and not what she sees. 

She shuns the latter, 

and prefers to seek the former. 

Sensing invitation 

No amount of slick presentation, pleasing 
to the eye, attractive to the ear, sensual to 
the touch, is going to bring the future to 
fruition. A tug only, at the heart, at our 
faculties to sense what wants to be born: 
that is what draws us together. 

The act of holding space demands that your 
turn your eyes and ears inward and still 
yourself while the invitations unfold 
around you. 



Success is as dangerous as failure, 
and we are often our own worst enemy. 

What does it mean 

that success is as dangerous as failure? 

He who is superior is also someone's subordinate. 

Receiving favor and loosing it both cause alarm. 

That is what is meant 

by success is as dangerous as failure. 

What does it mean 

that we are often our own worst enemy? 

The reason I have an enemy 

is because I have "self. 

If I no longer had a "self", 

I would no longer have an enemy. 

Love the whole world as if it were your self; 
then you will truly care for all things. 

Let go of self 

The key to holding space is letting go of 
your self and becoming unattached from 
the work. If you can't do this, then people 
will blame you for their failures and praise 
you for their successes. Neither condition 
is fair. 

When you walk the circle, when you sit 
with the process, watch that your body 
language does not say "I am in charge." 
Align your actions with your statements, 
and your being with the invitation you 
have just issued. 



Look for it, and it can't be seen. 
Listen for it, and it can't be heard. 
Grasp for it, and it can't be caught. 
These three cannot be further described, 
so we treat them as The One. 

It's highest is not bright. 

It's depths are not dark. 

Unending, unnameable, it returns to nothingness. 

Formless forms, and image less images, 

subtle, beyond all understanding. 

Approach it and you will not see a beginning; 

follow it and there will be no end. 

When we grasp the Tao of the ancient ones, 

we can use it to direct our life today. 

To know the ancient origin of Tao: 

this is the beginning of wisdom. 

Using vapourware 

Harrison Owen once called Open Space 
"vapourware." There are a million people 
who want to describe it, but no one is ever 
satisfied with the explanation. 

It arises from an empty circle and returns to 
an empty circle. To come into an Open 
Space meeting from the outside is to see a 
coffee break in progress. To sit in an Open 
Space meeting all day is to be taken on 
journeys of unfathomable depth. 

How can you facilitate this? 



The Sages of old were profound 
and knew the ways of subtlety and discernment. 
Their wisdom is beyond our comprehension. 
Because their knowledge was so far superior 
I can only give a poor description. 

They were careful 

as someone crossing an frozen stream in winter. 

Alert as if surrounded on all sides by the enemy. 

Courteous as a guest. 

Fluid as melting ice. 

Whole as an uncarved block of wood. 

Receptive as a valley. 

Turbid as muddied water. 

Who can be still 

until their mud settles 

and the water is cleared by itself? 

Can you remain tranquil until right action occurs by 


The Master doesn't seek fulfillment. 

For only those who are not full are able to be used 

which brings the feeling of completeness. 

Flexible mind 

The only way "Whatever happens is the 
only thing that could have happened" can 
be a principle that comes to life is if you 
approach each Open Space with a flexible 
mind. You come like a guest to a group of 
people, not knowing them, not seeking 

By remaining true to the process and open 
to the outcome, you begin to embody 
clarity. By remaining calm, you invite 
action. By remaining empty you encourage 



If you can empty your mind of all thoughts 
your heart will embrace the tranquility of peace. 
Watch the workings of all of creation, 
but contemplate their return to the source. 

All creatures in the universe 
return to the point where they began. 
Returning to the source is tranquility 
because we submit to Heavens mandate. 

Returning to Heavens 
mandate is called being constant. 
Knowing the constant is called 'enlightenment 1 . 
Not knowing the constant 
is the source of evil deeds 
because we have no roots. 
By knowing the constant 
we can accept things as they are. 
By accepting things as they are, 
we become impartial. 

By being impartial, we become one with Heaven. 
By being one with Heaven, 
we become one with Tao. 
Being one with Tao, 
we are no longer concerned about 
loosing our life because we know the Tao is constant 
and we are one with Tao. 

Prepare yourself 

You cannot hold space if you are already 
full. Holding space requires all of your 
capacity, offered fully and with certainty. 
Your concerns don't matter to the group, so 
your preparation is directed at shedding 

Holding space is about being the 
fundamental character the group is seeking. 
If it's clarity, be clear, if it's peace, be peace. 
Are you clear now? Are you peace in this 



The best leaders are those 

the people hardly know exist. 

The next best is a leader who is loved and praised. 

Next comes the one who is feared. 

The worst one is the leader that is despised. 

If you don't trust the people, 
they will become untrustworthy. 

The best leaders value their words, 

and use them sparingly. 

When she has accomplished her task, 

the people say, "Amazing: 

we did it, all by ourselves!" 

We did it 

Holding space demands that you be the 
best kind of leader, without compromise. 
Trust the group, be totally present and 
completely invisible. 

If the people did not do it themselves, it is 
not Open Space. 



When the great Tao is abandoned, 
charity and righteousness appear. 
When intellectualism arises, 
hypocrisy is close behind. 

When there is strife in the family unit, 
people talk about 'brotherly love'. 

When the country falls into chaos, 
politicians talk about 'patriotism'. 


It is the stories and constructions that we 
create to maintain our power that obscures 
us from seeing our true nature. 

Whatever these stories are, it is up to you to 
invite an opening through. Power founded 
on contrivance is useless for making 
positive change. 


19 Simplicity 

Forget about knowledge and wisdom, 

and people will be a hundred times better off. „ n , , , . . , . 

Throw away charity and righteousness, °P en S P ace ls a sm P le y et elegant thing. 

and people will return to brotherly love. Don't burden it with wit and savvy and 
Throw away profit and greed, _. , ,, , , , 

and there won't be any thieves. expertise. Simply walk to the centre of the 

circle, explain the process and get out of the 
These three are superficial and aren't enough 
to keep us at the center of the circle, so we must way. 

Embrace simplicity. This is opening space. 

Put others first. 
Desire little. 



Renounce knowledge and your problems will end. 
What is the difference between yes and no? 
What is the difference between good and evil? 
Must you fear what others fear? 
Nonsense, look how far you have missed the mark! 

Other people are joyous, 
as though they were at a spring festival. 
I alone am unconcerned and expressionless, 
like an infant before it has learned to smile. 

Other people have more than they need; 
I alone seem to possess nothing. 
I am lost and drift about with no place to go. 
I am like a fool, my mind is in chaos. 

Ordinary people are bright; 

I alone am dark. 

Ordinary people are clever; 

I alone am dull. 

Ordinary people seem discriminating; 

I alone am muddled and confused. 

I drift on the waves on the ocean, 

blown at the mercy of the wind. 

Other people have their goals, 

I alone am dull and uncouth. 

I am different from ordinary people. 
I nurse from the Great Mother's breasts. 

Be yourself 

You stand in relation to nothing. Model 
enthusiasm, revel in the joy of empty space 
and full potential. 

But don't model enthusiasm because 
people are timid, don't revel in joy because 
people are frightened. Don't try to create 
conditions that aren't there. 

You know what could happen here. 
Welcome it. Embrace it with everything 
you are. You have been nourished by life. 
Standing in the middle of the circle, in utter 
silence, is the time to live. 



The greatest virtue you can have 

comes from following only the Tao; 

which takes a form that is intangible and evasive. 

Even though the Tao is intangible and evasive, 

we are able to know it exists. 

Intangible and evasive, yet it has a manifestation. 

Secluded and dark, yet there is a vitality within it. 

It's vitality is very genuine. 

Within it we can find order. 

Since the beginning of time, the Tao has always 


It is beyond existing and not existing . 

How do I know where creation comes from? 

I look inside myself and see it. 

Care of life 

Open Space is not a tool to be modified and 
changed to suit your whims. It is born out 
of the fundamental processes of life: self- 
organization, a desire to improve, a will to 

It is not the process that needs 
modification; it is ourselves. When you feel 
the need to change it, look within you, find 
that impulse and change that instead. Then 
you keep the space as open as yourself. 



If you want to become whole, 

first let yourself become broken. 

If you want to become straight, 

first let yourself become twisted. 

If you want to become full, 

first let yourself become empty. 

If you want to become new, 

first let yourself become old. 

Those whose desires are few gets them, 

those whose desires are great go astray. 

For this reason the Master embraces the Tao, 

as an example for the world to follow. 

Because she isn't self centered, 

people can see the light in her. 

Because she does not boast of herself, 

she becomes a shining example. 

Because she does not glorify herself, 

she becomes a person of merit. 

Because she wants nothing from the world, 

the world can not overcome her. 

When the ancient Masters said, 
"If you want to become whole, 
then first let yourself be broken," 
they weren't using empty words. 
All who do this will be made complete. 

Way of life 

The four principles: 

• Whoever comes are the right people 

• Whatever happens is the only thing 
that could have happened 

• When it starts is the right time. 

• When it's over, it's over 

The Law of Two Feet: 

If you find yourself in a place where 
you are not learning or contributing, 
move somewhere where you can. 

These are not just clever statements. They 
are guides for living a life in open space., 
lowering oneself, bending and 
disappearing into wholeness and life. 



Nature uses few words: 
when the gale blows, it will not last long; 
when it rains hard, it lasts but a little while; 
What causes these to happen? Heaven and Earth. 

Why do we humans go on endlessly about little 

when nature does much in a little time? 

If you open yourself to the Tao, 

you and Tao become one. 

If you open yourself to Virtue, 

then you can become virtuous. 

If you open yourself to loss, 

then you will become lost. 

If you open yourself to the Tao, 
the Tao will eagerly welcome you. 
If you open yourself to virtue, 
virtue will become a part of you. 
If you open yourself to loss, 
the lost are glad to see you. 

"When you do not trust people, 
people will become untrustworthy." 

Model enthusiasm 

Once you truly understand Open Space , 
once you have embraced it and worked 
with it and invited it to meld with your life, 
then you can embody it. 

You meet the stares of cynical disbelief and 
the skeptical murmurs and model your 
own enthusiasm for what is transpiring, 
using few words and simple questions. 

What do you really want to do? Why don't 
you take care of it? 

Let's trust one another to meet our own 
needs that way. 



Those who stand on tiptoes 

do not stand firmly. 

Those who rush ahead 

don't get very far. 

Those who try to out shine others 

dim their own light. 

Those who call themselves righteous 

can't know how wrong they are. 

Those who boast of their accomplishments 

diminishes the things they have done. 

Compared to the Tao, these actions are unworthy. 
If we are to follow the Tao, 
we must not do these things. 

Right time 

In the glorious enfolded Now, we have 
everything we need. We can choose to 
explode it everywhere at once, or to tease 
out the threads and follow their unraveling. 

But we can't draw sustenance from 
expecting great things in short measure, 
nor can we say that what we are doing has 
great merit. When it starts is the right time, 
when it's over it's over. These things say 
nothing about scale, Tightness or great 
things. The skill we need is to keep focused 
on the Now, which contains everything. 



Before the universe was born 

there was something in the chaos of the heavens. 

It stands alone and empty, 

solitary and unchanging. 

It is ever present and secure. 

It may be regarded as the Mother of the universe. 

Because I do not know its name, 

I call it the Tao. 

If forced to give it a name, 

I would call it 'Great'. 

Because it is Great means it is everywhere. 
Being everywhere means it is eternal. 
Being eternal means everything returns to it. 

Tao is great. 

Heaven is great. 

Earth is great. 

Humanity is great. 

Within the universe, these are the four great things. 

Humanity follows the earth. 
Earth follows Heaven. 
Heaven follows the Tao. 
The Tao follows only itself. 

Chaos as natural law 

Nothing truly new is born from encrusted 
forms. At play in the spaces we create are 
all the forces of Creation; the balled-up 
energy, the fantastic potential of a universe 
unfolding from the chaos of beginning. 

When people are nervous, or aimlessly 
perusing the marketplace, this is when you 
can be most vigilant. Watch for that spark, 
the spark of creation that, in a moment, tips 
the chaos towards order, begins the journey 
towards the point embodied in the 
invitation. We follow the natural laws to 
the letter. We need only acknowledge them 



Heaviness is the basis of lightness. 
Stillness is the standard of activity. 

Thus the Master travels all day 
without ever leaving her wagon. 
Even though she has much to see, 
is she at peace in her indifference. 

Why should the lord of a thousand chariots 
be amused at the foolishness of the world? 
If you abandon yourself to foolishness, 
you lose touch with your beginnings. 
If you let yourself become distracted, 
you will lose the basis of your power. 

Stay focused 

Your job is not to do the work of the group. 
Your job is not to involve yourself in the 
small distractions of the day. Your job is 
not to feel anxious for all the people who 
are struggling with their learning. 

Stay focused on your job: holding space. 
Remain at peace in the chaos, remain 
detached in the emerging swirl of 
attachment. People will be shedding 
stories and assumptions all around you. 
Avoid catching them. 



A good traveler leaves no tracks, 

and a skillful speaker is well rehearsed. 

A good bookkeeper has an excellent memory, 

and a well made door 

is easy to open and needs no locks. 

A good knot needs no rope and it can not come 


Thus the Master is willing to help everyone, 
and doesn't know the meaning of rejection. 
She is there to help all of creation, 
and doesn't abandon even the smallest creature. 
This is called embracing the light. 

What is a good person but a bad person's teacher? 

What is a bad person 

but raw material for his teacher? 

If you fail to honor your teacher 

or fail to enjoy your student, 

you will become deluded 

no matter how smart you are. 

It is the secret of prime importance. 

Helping creation 

How can you help everyone and serve no 
one? Everyone in your group is uniquely 
capable of caring for their needs. Holding 
space means attending to the container in 
which all of this creation is occurring. 

All day, you are confronted with 
opportunities to learn about yourself, as 
you patch the holes and strengthen the 
walls of the container. You serve creation 
when you hold a space for it to work. You 
serve all the people when you fall away 
from their journeys and let them create 
their own footprints. 



Know the masculine, 

but keep to the feminine: 

and become a watershed to the world. 

If you embrace the world, 

the Tao will never leave you 

and you become as a little child. 

Know the white, 

yet keep to the black: 

be a model for the world. 

If you are a model for the world, 

the Tao inside you will strengthen 

and you will return whole to your eternal beginning. 

Know the honorable, 

but do not shun the disgraced: 

embracing the world as it is. 

If you embrace the world with compassion, 

then your virtue will return you to the uncarved 


The block of wood is carved into utensils 

by carving void into the wood. 

The Master uses the utensils, yet prefers to keep to 

the block 

because of its limitless possibilities. 

Great works do not involve discarding substance. 


Chaos and order swirl around you and 
within you. You find that spot where they 
fall from you equally, neither one tipping 
you from your balance. 

You need to hold out both the positive 
space of what is happening and the 
negative space of what is not happening. In 
the act of making something, people do not 
so much assemble things, as remove space 
from between the parts of the whole. 
Suddenly the light shines through and 
things glow. 

That space is yours to hold and offer to the 
group so they may use it to fill out the 
intricate patterns of their creation. 



Do you want to rule the world and control it? 
I don't think it can ever be done. 

The world is sacred vessel 

and it can not be controlled. 

You will only it make it worse if you try. 

It may slip through your fingers and disappear. 

Some are meant to lead, 
and others are meant to follow; 
Some must always strain, 
and others have an easy time; 
Some are naturally big and strong, 
and others will always be small; 
Some will be protected and nurtured, 
and others will meet with destruction. 

The Master accepts things as they are, 

and out of compassion avoids extravagance, 

excess and the extremes. 

Let go of control 

This is the hardest part. Until you have 
held space, you have no idea the extent to 
which the impulse to control things is alive 
in you. It shows up in Open Space in the 
subtlest ways: wanting to order to the wall, 
wanting to turn up the heat, wanting to 
move chairs into circles. 

So hear this deeply: you are not in control. 
Everything you do for the group is one less 
thing they know they can do for 
themselves. Your role is to hold this big 
space, full of compassion and acceptance 
that whatever happens is the only thing 
that could have happened. 

Your body and soul will ache at times. 
Your volition to move in will become 
overpowering. Simply notice this impulse. 
Gift it to yourself and spare the group from 
your own private tortures. 



Those who lead people by following the Tao 
don't use weapons to enforce their will. 
Using force always leads to unseen troubles. 

In the places where armies march, 

thorns and briars bloom and grow. 

After armies take to war, 

bad years must always follow. 

The skillful commander 

strikes a decisive blow then stops. 

When victory is won over the enemy through war 

it is not a thing of great pride. 

When the battle is over, 

arrogance is the new enemy. 

War can result when no other alternative is given, 

so the one who overcomes an enemy should not 

dominate them. 

The strong always weakened with time. 

This is not the way of the Tao. 

That which is not of the Tao will soon end. 

Space invaders 

It seems like there is always someone who 
knows more than anyone else. They will 
appear from time to time with demands, 
big and small. Sometimes it is a simple 
question, occasionally it is an outright 
rejection of what is happening. In all 
forms, subtle and helpful as well as bold 
and destructive, these people are fighting to 
hold on to themselves. It is a hard thing to 
watch, worse still if you are the target of 
their grasping. 

With practice you can see them and with 
practice you can embrace a space big 
enough for them to dwell. If you close the 
space to accommodate their fears, you 
prevent the group from helping them to 
grow, and you deny the group the 
possibility of its learning how to 
accommodate them. 

So inwardly, bite your tongue. Thank them 
and move on. 



Weapons are the bearers of bad news; 
all people should detest them. 

The wise man values the left side, 

and in time of war he values the right. 

Weapons are meant for destruction, 

and thus are avoided by the wise. 

Only as a last resort 

will a wise person use a deadly weapon. 

If peace is her true objective 

how can she rejoice in the victory of war? 

Those who rejoice in victory 

delight in the slaughter of humanity. 

Those who resort to violence 

will never bring peace to the world. 

The left side is a place of honor on happy occasions. 

The right side is reserved for mourning at a funeral. 

When the lieutenants 

take the left side to prepare for war, 

the general should be on the right side, 

because he knows the outcome will be death. 

The death of many 

should be greeted with great sorrow, 

and the victory celebration should honor those who 

have died. 

Cultivate peace 

The way we are with one another is the 
way we want to be. Groups are full of the 
violence of dying, the railing and fighting 
against the decay of old order and control. 
You are complicit in this if you take the side 
of those who espouse violent tactics to 
move their agenda forward. 

So you stay on the other side, hold space 
for the possibility that there is another way 
to be in the world, that the death and war 
around you does not want to thrive. 

Open Space is a place where even the 
staunchest soldiers can confront the sorrow 
and loss of the wars they champion. It is a 
place that opens a new reflective moment. 
You are the germ of that idea. 



The Tao is nameless and unchanging. 
Although it appears insignificant, 
nothing in the world can contain it. 

If a ruler abides by its principles, 

then her people will willingly follow. 

Heaven would then reign on earth, 

like sweet rain falling on paradise. 

People would have no need for laws, 

because the law would be written on their hearts. 

Naming is a necessity for order, 

but naming can not order all things. 

Naming often makes things impersonal, 

so we should know when naming should end. 

Knowing when to stop naming, 

you can avoid the pitfall it brings. 

All things end in the Tao 

just as the small streams and the largest rivers 

flow through valleys to the sea. 

Keep it short 

The Creator sang the universe into creation, 
and named everything. 

So all you have to do is state the principles 
and the law. It is not up to you to force 
those on people, but simply to name this 
space as one that is bounded by a few 
simple, universal rules. Groups don't need 
theory, they don't even need to know the 
name of the process. It's better not to tell 
them what Open Space is. 

Simply name the principles and the law, 
open space, and everything will take care of 
itself. The order we get for free contains 
everything the group needs. You have 
nothing to add. 



Turn inward 

Those who know others are intelligent; 

those who know themselves are truly wise. 

Those who master others are strong; ,, 1,1111 1 

those who master themselves have true power. You can onl Y trul Y hold s P ace when Y ou 

Those who know they have enough are truly . , ,, , ,. n 

wealthy, job takes tremendous effort, but it is effort 

know what you are made of. At times, this 

job takes tremendous effort, but it is effort 

directed inward, at the embers that smolder 
Those who persist will reach their goal. . , . , , . , , , 

m you, that raise the heat in your body and 

Those who keep their course have a strong will. sen d your mind into spasms. 

Those who embrace death will not perish, 
but have life everlasting. 

Those are the things over which you have 
control. It is better to sit in the corner and 
extinguish those fires than to think you can 
put out the blazes of passion in the group. 



The great Tao flows unobstructed in every direction. 

All things rely on it to conceive and be born, 

and it does not deny even the smallest of creation. 

When it has accomplishes great wonders, 

it does not claim them for itself. 

It nourishes infinite worlds, 

yet it doesn't seek to master the smallest creature. 

Since it is without wants and desires, 

it can be considered humble. 

All of creation seeks it for refuge 

yet it does not seek to master or control. 

Because it does not seek greatness; 

it is able to accomplish truly great things. 

Open Space is not magic 

You have opened a space and the group is 
at work within it. But you haven't opened 
a space - the sponsor has. And the sponsor 
hasn't opened a space - the space has 
always been there. 

What you are seeing can happen anytime. 
It is something anyone can have. It is right 
there, bounding every act of creation, every 
inspiration and every idea. 

It is not yours and nothing that happens 
within it belongs to it. The magic is not 
Open Space. The magic is the loosening of 
chains and the dissolving into what is. 



she who follows the way of the Tao Why are we paying you? 

will draw the world to her steps. 

She can go without fear of being injured, n , .,, , 

because she has found peace and tranquility in her Sometimes, people will come to you and 

heart. ask why you are being paid. 

Where there is music and good food, 

people will stop to enjoy it. Simply smile and respond 

But words spoken of the Tao " . . 

seem to them boring and stale. compassionately. 

When looked at, there is nothing for them to see. 

When listen for, there is nothing for them to hear. 

Yet if they put it to use, it would never be When people are able to take 

exhausted. responsibility for their own passion, 

management gets really easy." 



If you want something to return to the source, 

you must first allow it to spread out. 

If you want something to weaken, 

you must first allow it to become strong. 

If you want something to be removed, 

you must first allow it to flourish. 

If you want to possess something, 

you must first give it away. 

This is called the subtle understanding 
of how things are meant to be. 

The soft and pliable overcomes the hard and 

Just as fish remain hidden in deep waters, 
it is best to keep weapons out of sight. 


Don't look for answers in the directions 
that people want to go. The furthest goal 
lies on the other side of the invitation. 

Invite people to action, but hold space for 
rest. Invite people to peace, but hold space 
for conflict. Invite growth, but hold space 
for germination. Invite fullness but hold 
space for generosity. 

Being counterintuitive is the gift you give 
to the group. It opens space when their 
momentum seeks to close. 



The Tao never acts with force, 

yet there is nothing that it can not do. 

If rulers could follow the way of the Tao, 

then all of creation 

would willingly follow their example. 

If selfish desires 

were to arise after their transformation, 

I would erase them 

with the power of the Uncarved Block. 

By the power of the Uncarved Block, 

future generations would loose their selfish desires. 

By loosing their selfish desires, 

the world would naturally settle into peace. 

It's all yours 

There is a moment right after you have 
introduced the process and you are 
opening up the space for topics to be 
posted. In this moment, you must step out 
of the space and give it all over to the 
group. The space is empty of form, simply 
the imprint of your energy on the circle, 
markers and paper in the middle awaiting 
the creative energy of the group. 

"It's all yours." The group becomes the 
sculptor and the space becomes the 
uncarved block. 



The highest good is not to seek to do good, 
but to allow yourself to become it. 
The ordinary person seeks to do good things, 
and finds that they can not do them continually. 

The Master does not force virtue on others, 
thus she is able to accomplish her task. 
The ordinary person who uses force, 
will find that they accomplish nothing. 

The kind person acts from the heart, 
and accomplishes a multitude of things. 
The righteous person acts out of pity, 
yet leaves many things undone. 
The moral person will act out of duty, 
and when no one will respond 
will roll up his sleeves and uses force. 

When the Tao is forgotten, there is righteousness. 
When righteousness is forgotten, there is morality. 
When morality is forgotten, there is the law. 
The law is the husk of faith, 
and trust is the beginning of chaos. 

Our basic understandings are not from the Tao 

because they come from the depths of our 


The master abides in the fruit and not in the husk. 

She dwells in the Tao, 

and not with the things that hide it. 

This is how she increases in wisdom. 

Being open space 

Holding space means becoming singularly 
indistinct from the laws and the principles 
you have just talked about. You are 
embodying everything that lies at the heart 
of the process. Open Space is not a set of 
prescriptions, it is a way of being. It is a 
way of people working and living together, 
without force, without effort, without duty. 

To hold a space for passion and 
responsibility to work, you get inside 
everything that is enfolding around you 
and you stay there, inside the contrivances, 
inside the image, inside the trappings. 

The essence of Open Space is in the stillness 
and emptiness at the centre. Be in that 
space while everything swirls around you. 



The masters of old attained unity with the Tao. 

Heaven attained unity and become pure. 

The earth attained unity and found peace. 

The spirits attained unity so they could minister. 

The valleys attained unity that they might be full. 

Humanity attained unity that they might flourish. 

Their leaders attained unity that they might set the 


This is the power of unity. 

Without unity, the sky becomes filthy. 

Without unity, the earth becomes unstable. 

Without unity, the spirits become unresponsive and 


Without unity, the valleys become dry as a desert. 

Without unity, human kind can't reproduce and 

becomes extinct. 

Without unity, our leaders become corrupt and fall. 

The great view the small as their source, 

and the high takes the low as their foundation. 

Their greatest asset becomes their humility. 

They speak of themselves as orphans and widows, 

thus they truly seek humility. 

Do not shine like the precious gem, 

but be as dull as a common stone. 

Attaining unity 

To facilitate open space you must facilitate 
nothing. To hold space you hold nothing. 
To make something from these efforts you 
must create nothing. 

Attaining unity means to bring spirit and 
matter together. Bring passion and 
responsibility together. Bring time and 
space together. Bring presence and absence 

You are totally present and completely 



All movement returns to the Tao. 
Weakness is how the Tao works. 

All of creation is born from substance. 
Substance is born of nothing-ness. 

The source 

Arrive early and leave late. Then you will 
see that an empty room lies on either end of 
Open Space. You can feel it fill with life 
and ebb again. Beginning in silence, 
ending in silence, transformation in the 



When a superior person hears of the Tao, 

She diligently puts it into practice. 

When an average person hears of the Tao, 

he believes half of it, and doubts the other half. 

When a foolish person hears of the Tao, 

he laughs out loud at the very idea. 

If he didn't laugh, 

it wouldn't be the Tao. 

Thus it is said: 

The brightness of the Tao seems like darkness, 

the advancement of the Tao seems like retreat, 

the level path seems rough, 

the superior path seem empty, 

the pure seems to be tarnished, 

and true virtue doesn't seem to be enough. 

The virtue of caution seems like cowardice, 

the pure seems to be polluted, 

the true square seems to have no corners, 

the best vessels take the most time to finish, 

the greatest sounds cannot be heard, 

and the greatest image has no form. 

The Tao hides in the unnamed, 

Yet it alone nourishes and completes all things. 

Hiding in the unnamed 

When you feel the need to do more, find a 
way to do less. When you think there is 
something else to day, look for another way 
to be silent. When you grasp at outcomes 
and desire results, open your hand and 
hold more. 

In Open Space, action arises from stillness. 
The answers are contained in the question. 
The essence is hiding and you are inviting 
it into the room. 



The Tao gave birth to One. 

The One gave birth to Two. 

The Two gave birth to Three. 

The Three gave birth to all of creation. 

All things carry Yin 

yet embrace Yang. 

They blend their life breaths 

in order to produce harmony. 

People despise being orphaned, widowed and poor. 
But the noble ones take these as their titles. 
In loosing, much is gained, 
and in gaining, much is lost. 

What others teach I too will teach: 

"The strong and violent will not die a natural death. 

The marketplace 

The chaos of the marketplace loosens up 
connections, expectations and intentions. 
Serendipity, proximity and synchronicity 
take over and order arises. 

There is no way to work with these 
dynamics. We must instead step away and 
allow people to find their place, allow 
topics to attract the right people, allow 
whatever happens to happen. 

The group gains from this because 
synergies occur where passions overlap 
and meet and envelop one another and 
friends and collaborators are quickly found. 
There is no forcing together of the pieces 
that requires continued force to stay 
together. People are instead bound by the 
magnetic forces of invitation, call and 



That which offers no resistance, 
overcomes the hardest substances. 
That which offers no resistance 
can enter where there is no space. 

Few in the world can comprehend 

the teaching without words, 

or understand the value of non-action. 

Handling space invaders 

Most people don't want to be space 
invaders, but by their actions they close 
space just the same. When someone seems 
to want to run things, and steps to the 
middle to try to gain something from the 
circle, just go and stand beside that person. 
Remain silent, and remain close. 

The person will soon feel what it is like to 
have space close. Things will then usually 

move on. 



Which is more important, your honor or your life? 

Which is more valuable, your possessions or your 


Which is more destructive, success or failure? 

Because of this, great love extracts a great cost 
and true wealth requires greater loss. 

Knowing when you have enough avoids dishonor, 

and knowing when to stop will keep you from 


and bring you a long, happy life. 

Doing just enough 

To open space requires only a few minutes 
of introduction and instruction. Whether 
you do this well or badly hardly seems to 
matter. The success or failure of the group 
is entirely up to them. 

The group does not need you to invest in 
them, to teach them or to guide them. They 
don't need your presence at all. 

Simply open space and sit with them. 



The greatest accomplishments seem imperfect, 
yet their usefulness is not diminished. 
The greatest fullness seems empty, 
yet it will be inexhaustible. 

The greatest straightness seems crooked. 
The most valued skill seems like clumsiness. 
The greatest speech seems full of stammers. 

Movement overcomes the cold, 

and stillness overcomes the heat. 

That which is pure and still is the universal ideal. 

Not what you expect 

Start with no agenda and one will emerge. 
Begin with nothing and great depths will 
flood in. Whatever happens is the only 
thing that could have happened, and yet 
that crooked and twisty path leads us to the 
moment of action. 

At the end of a day a half, savour the 
moment between the close of the space and 
the opening of the new world. 



When the world follows the Tao, 
horses run free to fertilize the fields. 
When the world does not follow the Tao, 
war horses are bred outside the cities. 

There is no greater transgression 
than condoning peoples selfish desires, 
no greater disaster than being discontent, 
and no greater retribution than for greed. 

Whoever knows contentment will be at peace 

No control 

We are conditioned to believing that 
controlling things gets us results. When we 
bend to the temptation to control, we create 
an awful lot of hard work for ourselves. 
We have to become responsible for 
animating that which is within, and staving 
off the attacks from outside. 

The first time someone comes to Open 
Space it seems that the choice is between 
control and chaos. In reality it is the choice 
between misery and contentment. 



Without opening your door, 
you can know the whole world. 
Without looking out your window, 
you can understand the way of the Tao. 

The more knowledge you seek, 
the less you will understand. 

The Master understands without leaving, 

sees clearly without looking, 

accomplishes much without doing anything. 

It's all in the room 

When you open the space acknowledge 
that everything we might become is here in 
the room. All the potential for change, the 
capacity to do it well, the future that wants 
to be born - it's all in the room. 

We sometimes think that we need to gather 
knowledge from environmental scans, 
surveys, focus groups. It's as if the answers 
lie outside of ourselves somewhere. 

There is stuff to learn out there, but the best 
questions and the right answers are right 
here, right now. 



One who seeks knowledge 

One less thing 

learns something new every day. ^ ,.. .. c 

one who seeks the Tao Cultivating a practice of opening space 

unlearns something new every day. means constantly finding things not to do. 

Less and less remains until you arrive at non-action. _ , , .,., , , .... ,. 

when you arrive at non-action, For most facilitators, facilitating open space 

nothing will be left undone. runs counter to everything that we know. 

Mastery of the world is achieved 

by letting things take their natural course. But if we practice finding those things we 

You can not master the world by changing the 

natural way. cling to and let go of them, gradually we 

will develop a practice of opening space 

that welcomes the group fully into it's 

work. And you will find that many other 

things change too. 



The Master has no mind of her own. 
She understands the mind of the people. 

To those who are good she treats as good. 

To those who aren't good she also treats as good. 

This is how she attains true goodness. 

She trusts people who are trustworthy. 

She also trusts people who aren't trustworthy. 

This is how she gains true trust. 

Meet each as they are 

Whoever comes are the right people means 
we meet the people in Open Space in all of 
the possibility of their true potential. And 
beyond this, we don't even bring that 
judgment to work. 

The Master's mind is shut off from the world. 

Only for the sake of the people does she muddle her Meet people as they are and let them be 

mind - what they will be and flow will show up in 

They look to her in anticipation. 

Yet she treats them all as her children. Open Space. You have nothing to do with 

their work but to hold the container for it 

all to unfold. 


50 . 

Those who leave the womb at birth 

and those who enter their source at death, 

of these; three out of ten celebrate life, 

three out often celebrate death, 

and three out of ten simply go from life to death. 

What is the reason for this? 

Because they are afraid of dying, 

therefore they can not live. 

I have heard that those who celebrate life 

walk safely among the wild animals. 

When they go into battle, they remain unharmed. 

The animals find no place to attack them 

and the weapons are unable to harm them. 

Why? Because they can find no place for death in 


Serving life 

When you enter the circle to bring life to 
the group, your greatest task is to embody 
the life you are inviting. If you are inviting 
fierceness in the face of confusion and grief, 
you must stand fiercely against confusion 
and grief. If you are not afraid of Open 
Space then others will not be afraid of Open 

Our shadows play in this arena. Our fear 
of death stops us from welcoming life. Our 
normal complacency prevents us from 
attending to this work mindfully. 

But the fundamental motion is to walk into 
that space with the strong knowledge that 
all that happens in there serves life. 



The Tao gives birth to all of creation. 

The virtue of Tao in nature nurtures them, 

and their family give them their form. 

Their environment then shapes them into 


That is why every creature honors the Tao and its 


No one tells them to honor the Tao and its virtue, 

it happens all by itself. 

So the Tao gives them birth, 

and its virtue cultivates them, 

cares for them, 

nurtures them, 

gives them a place of refuge and peace, 

helps them to grow and shelters them. 

It gives them life without wanting to posses them, 

and cares for them expecting nothing in return. 

It is their master, but it does not seek to dominate 


This is called the dark and mysterious virtue. 

Emergent structure 

People fret that structure leads to action. 
That is true, but it is not the structure from 
outside that leads to actions, it is the 
structure that emerges from inside that is 
where the explosion of action originates. 
Like a seed that contains the tree. 

Open Space, empty and receiving, is the 
ground in which structure organizes the 
support and growth of action from ideas. 
From that empty place, small invitations 
emerge. From the small invitations, 
conversation nurtures growth. From that 
growth comes the momentum that attracts 
the resources of time and attention and 
money to see the ideas to completion. 

The emptier the space the more giving it is 
and the more intricate the action that 
emerges. There is no need to talk about it, 
because that only confuses things. Just 
offer it and hold it open. 



The world had a beginning 

which we call the Great Mother. 

Once we have found the Mother, 

we begin to know what Her children should be. 

When we know we are the Mothers child, 

we begin to guard the qualities of the Mother in us. 

She will protect us from all danger 

even if we lose our life. 

Keep your mouth closed 

and embrace a simple life, 

and you will live care-free until the end of your 


If you try to talk your way into a better life 

there will be no end to your trouble. 

To understand the small is called clarity. 
Knowing how to yield is called strength. 
To use your inner light for understanding 
regardless of the danger 
is called depending on the Constant. 


Self -organization happens in Open Space 
because self -organization happens 
everywhere else. It is the story of 
everything that has occurred to this 
moment and will occur in the next one. As 
Brian Swimme once said, the miracle of the 
universe is that you start with a cloud of 
hydrogen, wait 15 billion years and 
suddenly - opera! 

We are indeed children of this dynamic. 
We owe our very existence to self- 
organization. And if self-organization can 
produce something as gloriously beautiful 
as a human baby, it should do fine for 
anything we use it for. 

It is not complicated, but it is simplicity 
that welcomes and holds complexity. It is 
not strong but it is yielding that allows 
strength to grow. 

It creates whole universes by doing nothing 
at all. 



If I understood only one thing, 

I would want to use it to follow the Tao. 

My only fear would be one of pride. 

The Tao goes in the level places, 

but people prefer to take the short cuts. 

If too much time is spent cleaning the house 

the land will become neglected 

and full of weeds, 

and the granaries will soon become empty 

because there is no one out working the fields. 

To wear fancy clothes and ornaments, 

to have your fill of food and drink 

and to waste all of your money buying possessions 

is called the crime of excess. 

Oh, how these things go against the way of the Tao! 


One of the conditions under which Open 
Space works best is where there are high 
levels of diversity. People want easy 
answers and a clear path to a goal. But 
where there are a diversity of questions, 
there arises a multiplicity of answers and a 
variety of paths. And when these emerge, 
each can join the path that takes them in the 
easiest way to the places we all need to go. 

To invest in one set of solutions, to assume 
that there is one path when complexity and 
diversity has created the conditions for our 
current situation, is to neglect the truth in 
favour of the preferences of ego and pride. 
This only serves ego and pride and not the 
deep questions that we are able to ask of 
one another. 

In convergence, hold space for possibility 
and don't join the allure of the glamorous 
solution. Wise action invites all to join 
where they can. 



That which is well built 

will never be torn down. 

That which is well latched 

can not slip away. 

Those who do things well 

will be honored from generation to generation. 

If this idea is cultivated in the individual, 
then his virtue will become genuine. 
If this idea is cultivated in your family, 
then virtue in your family will be great. 
If this idea is cultivated in your community, 
then virtue will go a long way. 
If this idea is cultivated in your country, 
then virtue will be in many places. 
If this idea is cultivated in the world, 
then virtue will be with everyone. 

Then observe the person for what the person does, 

and observe the family for what it does, 

and observe the community for what it does, 

and observe the country for what it does, 

and observe the world for what it does. 

How do I know this saying is true? 

I observe these things and see. 

Practicing well 

Space can be closed, but space holding 
cannot collapse. Invitations may come and 
go, but invitation is always present. 
Practicing the way of invitation and 
holding means that whether you are in 
Open Space or not, you will always be 
holding space, and the results may flow in 
yourself, your family, your community, 
your nation and your world. 

Practice well so that the practice survives, 
even as projects come and go, spaces open 
and close, bodies arise and die. 



One who is filled with the Tao 

is like a newborn child. 

The infant is protected from 

the stinging insects, wild beasts, and birds of prey. 

Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak, 

but its grip is firm and strong. 

It doesn't know about the union 

of male and female, 

yet his penis can stand erect, 

because of the power of life within him. 

It can cry all day and never become hoarse. 

This is perfect harmony. 

To understand harmony is to understand the 


To know the Constant is to be called 'enlightened'. 

To unnaturally try to extend life is not appropriate. 

To try and alter the life-breath is unnatural. 

The master understands that when something 

reaches its prime 

it will soon begin to decline. 

Changing the natural is against the way of the Tao. 

Those who do it will come to an early end. 

Whatever happens is full 

of life 

Unless you approach each Open Space with 
new eyes, you will never see the life that is 
there. Everyone thinks they know what 
will happen and so that is what they look 
for. You alone know that whatever 
happens is the only thing that could have, 
and that which happens is full of the new 
life that arises from emergence. 

So hold this stance, so that others may learn 
to join you in it to appreciate that as the 
event itself opens and closes, ideas and 
actions too arise and pas away, leaving in 
their wake a trail of life and change. 
Embody from the first moment that 
whatever happens is full of life. 



Those who know do not talk. 
Those who talk do not know. 

Stop talking, 

meditate in silence, 

blunt your sharpness, 

release your worries, 

harmonize your inner light, 

and become one with the dust. 

Doing this is the called the dark and mysterious 


Those who have achieved the mysterious identity 

can not be approached, and they can not be 


They can not be benefited nor harmed. 

They can not be made noble nor to suffer disgrace. 

This makes them the most noble of all under the 


Fully present, totally 

Your job is simply to be fully present and 
totally invisible. 

People will ignore you. They will forget 
that you are there. They will take 
responsibility for what they love and not 
expect anything else of you. 

And when you have disappeared to them 
they will only feel themselves acting within 
the space you helped them create. 



Govern your country with integrity, 

Weapons of war can be used with great cunning, 

but loyalty is only won by not-doing. 

How do I know the way things are? 

By these: 

The more prohibitions you make, 

the poorer people will be. 

The more weapons you posses, 

the greater the chaos in your country. 

The more knowledge that is acquired, 

the stranger the world will become. 

The more laws that you make, 

the greater the number of criminals. 

Therefore the Master says: 

I do nothing, 

and people become good by themselves. 

I seek peace, 

and people take care of their own problems. 

I do not meddle in their personal lives, 

and the people become prosperous. 

I let go of all my desires, 

and the people return to the Uncarved Block. 

Space invaders 

Space invaders become more plentiful the 
more rules you have. Open Space runs on 
four principles and one law and that is all 
you need. More than that and people 
become "space invaders" to you, 
demanding the open space they were 

Resist the temptation to help people by 
giving them rules of conduct. People know 
what their work is. Invite them to peace 
and they will move to peace. Fence them in 
and they will first try to break out and then 
move to peace. 

Passion bounded by responsibility. That is 


58 Conflict and trouble 

If a government is unobtrusive, 

the people become whole. „, . . , , .., ., . 

If a government is repressive, There are two wa Y s to deal wlth thm g s 

the people become treacherous. falling apart. You can remain out of the 

Good fortune has its roots in disaster, wa Y and let thin S s take their course. Or 

and disaster lurks with good fortune. you can step in and try to control the 

Who knows why these things happen, 

or when this cycle will end? Situation. 

Good things seem to change into bad, 

and bad things often turn out for good. 

These things have always been hard to comprehend. The answer is in the fire of trouble. When 

the people themselves struggle with their 

Thus the Master makes things change 

without interfering. own conflicts and are able to take 

She is probing yet causes no harm. responsibility for resolution, they will find 

Straightforward, yet does not impose her will. 

Radiant, and easy on the eye. the way that works for themselves. It will 

be a way of which you are totally unaware. 

The most you can do is ask a question: 

What do you really want to do? Why don't 

you take of it? 

Simply embody the hope that there is a 
way to loosen the struggle and peace will 



There is nothing better than moderation 
for teaching people or serving Heaven. 
Those who use moderation 
are already on the path to the Tao. 

Those who follow the Tao early 
will have an abundance of virtue. 
When there is an abundance of virtue, 
there is nothing that can not be done. 
Where there is limitless ability, 
then the kingdom is withing your grasp. 
When you know the Mother of the kingdom, 
then you will be long enduring. 

This is spoken of as the deep root and the firm 


the Way to a long life and great spiritual vision. 

Embody impossibility 

Open Space should not work. It should be 
impossible to put people together in a room 
with no agenda and have them create 
powerful and transformative conversations. 

That's the hard part. Rest in that and the 
impossible becomes possible everywhere 


60 Don't tinker 

Governing a large country 

is like frying small fish. „, . , . , . , , 

Too much poking spoils the meat. The moment you begin to tinker, you steal 

the responsibility that holds the body 
When the Tao is used to govern the world ,, „, , , , , , ,, , 

then evil will loose its power to harm the people. together. The darkest shadows therefore 

Not that evil will no longer exist, w iU see k you out and you will be expected 
but only because it has lost its power. 1, i v. 

Just as evil can loose its ability to harm, to neal tnem. 
the Master shuns the use of violence. 

if you give evil nothing to oppose, Let them dissolve into your space and they 

then virtue will return by itself. w jji heal themselves. 


61 . 

A large country should take the low place like a 

great watershed, 

which from its low position assumes the female role. 

The female overcomes the male by the power of her 


Her tranquility gives rise to her humility. 

If a large country takes the low position, 

it will be able to influence smaller countries. 

If smaller countries take the lower position, 

then they can allow themselves to be influenced. 

So both seek to take the lower position 

in order to influence the other, or be influenced. 

Large countries should desire to protect and help the 


and small countries should desire to serve others. 

Both large and small countries benefit greatly from 


Let the centre receive the 


When the moment of invitation is released, 
the flood moves in towards you. Abide in 
the centre for a moment and then move 
aside and let the centre receive the energy 
of invitation. 

All the intention to improve, to move 
towards good, to correct, is then directed to 
the whole itself and everyone is nourished. 


62 . 

The Tao is the tabernacle of creation, 
it is a treasure for those who are good, 
and a place of refuge for those who are not. 

How can those who are not good be abandoned? 

Words that are beautiful are worth much, 

but good behavior can only be learned by example. 

When a new leader takes office, 
don't give him gifts and offerings. 
These things are not as valuable 
as teaching him about the Tao. 

Why was the Tao esteemed by the ancient Masters? 
Is it not said: "With it we find without looking. 
With it we find forgiveness for our transgressions." 
That is why the world can not under stand it. 

Offering Open Space as 


All you can do with Open Space is enter it. 
You cannot deplete it, but only make more 
of it. 

Be open space and offer it to others as 


63 . 

Act by not acting; 

do by not doing. 

Enjoy the plain and simple. 

Find that greatness in the small. 

Take care of difficult problems 

while they are still easy; 

Do easy things before they become too hard. 

Difficult problems are best solved while they are 


Great projects are best started while they are smal 

The Master never takes on more than she can 


which means that she leaves nothing undone. 

When an affirmation is given too lightly, 
keep your eyes open for trouble ahead. 
When something seems too easy, 
difficulty is hiding in the details. 
The master expects great difficulty, 
so the task is always easier than planned. 

Back up the flow 

"Whoever comes is the right people" means 
that even the smallest group is capable of 
great depth. If we are able to focus the 
powerful lens of conversation on the subtle 
apprehension of issues before they are 
problems and opportunities before they are 
solutions, we have the chance to make the 
small adjustments to take these things to a 
powerful and positive end. 

In action planning then, it is most 
important simply to find the next thing to 
do, to create momentum, to commit to 
carrying forward the momentum of the 
event, to agree to continue bringing 
conversation to the subtlest details, currents 
and streams. 

If we deal with the erosive power of water 
at the highest levels, we can channel it's 
flow into growth and sustenance without 
building a dam to impede it downstream. 



Things are easier to control while things are quiet. 
Things are easier to plan far in advance. 
Things break easier while they are still brittle. 
Things are easier hid while they are still small. 

Prevent problems before they arise. 

Take action before things get out of hand. 

The tallest tree 

begins as a tiny sprout. 

The tallest building 

starts with one shovel of dirt. 

A journey of a thousand miles 

starts with a single foot step. 

If you rush into action, you will fail. 

If you hold on too tight, you will loose your grip. 

Therefore the Master lets things take their course 

and thus never fails. 

She doesn't hold on to things 

and never looses them. 

By pursing your goals too relentlessly, 

you let them slip away. 

If you are as concerned about the outcome 

as you are about the beginning, 

then it is hard to do things wrong. 

The master seeks no possessions. 

She learns by unlearning, 

thus she is able to understand all things. 

This gives her the ability to help all of creation. 

Attend to the beginnings 

If we demand to see the results of our work 
immediately, we are deluding ourselves 
about the way the world works. We are not 
capable of massive change with instant 
actions. The power of leadership comes 
when we direct our energies to the proper 

Open Space reveals powerful channels of 
subtle action often at the growing edge of 
change. Therefore we need to support this 
capacity with an excellent invitation that 
fully understands what this chance is and 
that attracts people into the space with a 
sense of undeniably inevitability that THIS 
conversation may change everything. 

And yet, the opening of the day must focus 
the participants on their ability to sense the 
opportunities in flow, to play and 
experiment and to find ways of acting that 
trust the effects of work downstream. 

We can never know; we can only act for 



The ancient Masters 

who understood the way of the Tao, 

did not educate people, but made them forget. 

Smart people are difficult to guide, 
because they think they are too clever. 
To use cleverness to rule a country, 
is to lead the country to ruin. 
To avoid cleverness in ruling a country, 
is to lead the country to prosperity. 

Knowing the two alternatives is a pattern. 
Remaining aware of the pattern is a virtue. 
This dark and mysterious virtue is profound. 
It is opposite our natural inclination, 
but leads to harmony with the heavens. 

Freedom shock 

We delude ourselves into thinking that we 
know what's going to happen. We have 
been schooled this way; to imagine that the 
answers float in, borne on the wings of an 
Authority who rules on the quandaries 
before us. 

When we enter open space, these delusions 
fall away. Only deliberation will save us, 
and that means trusting into a bigger whole 
than perhaps we have ever met. It is a 
shock to be stranded in the flow with no 
certainty or authority upon which to 
anchor. But if we are aware of our own 
capacities to connect and create emergence 
with others, nothing can stand for long. 

Hold space for this, and remember what it 
feels like to have your world rocked. Your 
people will benefit from that empathy. 



Rivers and seas are rulers 

of the streams of hundreds of valleys 

because of the power of their low position. 

If you want to be the ruler of people, 

you must speak to them like you are their servant. 

If you want to lead other people, 

you must put their interest ahead of your own. 

The people will not feel burdened, 

if a wise person is in a position of power. 

The people will not feel like they are being 


if a wise person is in front as their leader. 

The whole world will ask for her guidance, 

and will never get tired of her. 

Because she does not like to compete, 

no one can compete with the things she 


Coffee cups 

Once the space is open, simply move out of 
the way and take Harrison's advice: collect 
coffee cups. It will make the space safer, 
and it will give you something to do that 
serves the group and stays out of its way. 
The group will find unanticipated levels of 
greatness if you stay out of the way. 

So to achieve great things, get the coffee 
cups cleared away. 



The world talks about honoring the Tao, 
but you can't tell it from their actions. 
Because it is thought of as great, 
the world makes light of it. 
It seems too easy for anyone to use. 

There are three jewels that I cherish: 

compassion, moderation, and humility. 

With compassion, you will be able to be brave, 

With moderation, you will be able to give to others, 

With humility, you will be able to become a great 


To abandon compassion while seeking to be brave, 

or abandoning moderation while being benevolent, 

or abandoning humility while seeking to lead 

will only lead to greater trouble. 

The compassionate warrior will be the winner, 

and if compassion is your defense you will be 


Compassion is the protector of Heavens salvation. 

Offering out of care 

Everyone wants to be free, to have space 
open around them, and it seems an easy 
thing to have in principle. 

But to live there, in open space, you must 
see that freedom in terms of what can be 
offered to others. Sharing that hard won 
perspective requires compassion for others, 
moderation in what you offer and humility 
about your own journey and aspirations. 

If you can't be compassionate, you can;t see 
how Open Space works for others. If you 
are not moderate in your own life, you will 
have nothing to share, and if you relinquish 
humility you create dependence and 
therefore the opposite effect. 

You only work this, hold this space and 
offer this gift out of care. 



The best warriors 

do not use violence. 

The best generals 

do not destroy indiscriminately. 

The best tacticians 

try to avoid confrontation. 

The best leaders 

becomes servants of their people. 

This is called the virtue of non-competition. 

This is called the power to manage others. 

This is called attaining harmony with the heavens. 

Managing ease 

Holding space is an act of courage and 
leadership. It takes resolve to stand still 
and trust that the people with whom you 
are working know what to do. You act 
contrary to what it seems a leader is called 
to do. You invite rather than compel, 
cherish diversity rather than a single view, 
see clarity in the generative nature of 

You invite offerings, shared ideas and 
collaboration and management becomes so 
light and easy that the very idea 



There is an old saying: 
"It is better to become the passive 
in order to see what will happen. 
It is better to retreat a foot 
than to advance only an inch." 

This is called 

being flexible while advancing, 

pushing back without using force, 

and destroying the enemy without engaging him. 

There is no greater disaster 

than underestimating your enemy. 

Underestimating your enemy 

means loosing your greatest assets. 

When equal forces meet in battle, 

victory will go to the one 

that enters with the greatest sorrow. 

The aikido of solutions 

The pressing problems of our time are 
wicked, complex, unanswerable questions. 
How do we feed the world? What is the 
best path to peace? Are we doomed? 

These questions themselves arise out of a 
steady movement and negotiation of ideas 
and situations. They sit cunningly at our 
feet and stare into our eyes and infect our 
souls with their pleading. And simple 
answers seem only to feed their power to 
bewilder us. 

But they contain the seeds of their own 
answering. We see how they move into our 
sphere and we become like they are, 
pervasive, experimental, seeping into 

If you engage the wicked problems of our 
time with their own tools - passion, 
complexity, diversity and urgency - then 
you retain your own ground and avoid the 
grief of losing your way. But you must 
hold space for that. 

See what energy these problems offer and 
use it to move past them with joy and 



My words are easy to understand DClliy 

and easier to put into practice. 

Yet no one in the world seem to understand them, . , ,. . . , „ ,• ., . . . , 

and are not able to apply what I teach. And ultimately, all of this is just words, just 

a way of talking about what is already 
My teachings come from the ancients, , _ _ , , 

the things I do are done for a reason. known. Open Space surrounds you; the 

teachers of this are everywhere. How else 
Because you do not know me, ,, lr . . , 

you are not able to understand my teachings. could self-organization proceed? 

Because those who know me are few, 
my teachings become even more precious. . 

Leave the teachings for practice. Leave the 

practice for being. 



Knowing you don't know is wholeness. lUally 
Thinking you know is a disease. 

Only by recognizing that you have an illness , , . , . 

can you move to seek a cure. There ls onl y one cure for the anxiety of not 

knowing what will happen: curiosity. 
The Master is whole because _ l , , . .,, 

she sees her illnesses and treats them, Everyone wants to know how it will go. 

and thus is able to remain whole. Some are sure it will be great; others are 

certain it will be a disaster. What do you 

I don't know. But I'm curious to find out. 



When people become overly bold, 
then disaster will soon arrive. 

Do not meddle with peoples livelihood; 

by respecting them they will in turn respect you. 

Nothing to say 

You may never need to say the words 
"Open Space." You may never utter the 
principles and the law. If you have lost 
your sense of wonder, you may fall back on 

Therefore, the Master knows herself but is not 


She loves herself but also loves others. . 

This is how she is able to make appropriate choices, tools. But try not to become the expert. 

What the people have done, they have done 
themselves. Leave it with them. 



Being over bold and confidant is deadly. 
The wise use of caution will keep you alive. 

One is the way to death, 

and the other is the way to preserve your life. 

Who can understand the workings of Heaven? 

The Tao of the universe 
does not compete, yet wins; 
does not speak, yet responds; 
does not command, yet is obeyed; 
and does act, but is good at directing. 

The nets of Heaven are wide, 
but nothing escapes its grasp. 

Ease as service 

A space easily opened is easily held. A 
space held with ease is big enough for 
competition, answers, conclusions and 
accomplishments, even as it invites 
collaboration questions, hypotheses and 
visions. Ease in service of the whole, and 
inviting all in. 



if you do not fear death, Whatever happens 

then how can it intimidate you? 

If you aren't afraid of dying, XT . . „ ., , , „ c 

there is nothing you can not do. Next to a11 the words of °P en S P ace ' 

Harrison Owen used the word "control" 
Those who harm others c „ „ -,,.-, t m 

are like inexperienced boys most of alL As m Y ou don * have it, you 11 

trying to take the place of a great lumberjack. never get it, it's all an illusion and to think 

Trying to fill his shoes will only get them seriously , , , , 

hurt " otherwise is to get a sharp lesson from 

whatever is about to happen." 

Let go into uncertainty and see what comes. 



When people go hungry, 

the governments taxes are too high. 

When people become rebellious, 

the government has become too intrusive. 

When people begin to view death lightly, 
wealthy people have too much 
which causes others to starve. 

Only those who do not cling to their life can save it. 

No rules 

There are four principles and one law and 
one invitation. That is all you need. 
Anything more than this and people crave 
freedom. Any more rules and people 
abandon their responsibility. 

Open space for the people, not for yourself. 
Trust them. They'll make it. 



The living are soft and yielding; 
the dead are rigid and stiff. 
Living plants are flexible and tender; 
the dead are brittle and dry. 

Those who are stiff and rigid 
are the disciple of death. 
Those who are soft and yielding 
are the disciples of life. 

The rigid and stiff will be broken. 
The soft and yielding will overcome. 

Flow in the marketplace 

Agendas exists solely to control what 
happens. They are rigid and inflexible in 
the service of power. But in Open Space 
invitation in the marketplace is the agenda 
- flexible, adaptable, all in the service of 
flowing action. 

Agendas come undone with contention, but 
marketplaces only grow larger and more 
active with one more offering of passion 
and responsibility. Left alone, everything 
that wants to get done can get done. 



The Tao of Heaven works in the world 

like the drawing of a bow. 

The top is bent downward; 

the bottom is bent up. 

The excess is taken from, 

and the deficient is given to. 

The Tao works to use the excess, 

and gives to that which is depleted. 

The way of people is to take from the depleted, 

and give to those who already have an excess. 

Who is able to give to the needy from their excess? 
Only some one who is following the way of the Tao. 

This is why the Master gives 

expecting nothing in return. 

She does not dwell on her past accomplishments, 

and does not glory in any praise. 

Giving space 

There is no higher practice than making 
good. And there is nothing better to give 
than rich, fertile space - space that 
cultivates accumulation of goodness and 
that offers it all back to its source. 



Water is the softest and most yielding substance. 
Yet nothing is better than water, 
for overcoming the hard and rigid, 
because nothing can compete with it. 

Everyone knows that the soft and yielding 

overcomes the rigid and hard, 

but few can put this knowledge into practice. 

Therefore the Master says: 

"Only he who is the lowest servant of the kingdom, 

is worthy to become its ruler. 

He who is willing tackle the most unpleasant tasks, 

is the best ruler in the world." 

True sayings seem contradictory. 

Service in the midst 

Water flows around every obstacle and 
eventually moves them all. When grief and 
sorrow erupt in the space, you are called 
simply to stand in its midst and exercise 
great serenity as you let yourself flow with 
that force. Then you become the most 
valuable resource for the people; standing 
in a place of calm to which their hearts may 
lead them. 




Difficulties remain, even after solving a problem. 
How then can we consider that as good? 

Therefore the Master The responsibility for the quality of your 

does what she knows is right, experience rests solely with you. If you 

and makes no demands of others. ,. , ."'.,' 

A virtuous person will do the right thing, fmd y our experience wanting for 

and persons with no virtue will take advantage of something, go inside and learn what you 

can about yourself . Hold space also for this 

The Tao does not choose sides, inquiry in others, 

the good person receives from the Tao 
because she is on its side. 



Small countries with few people are best. 

Give them ail of the things they want, 

and they will see that they do not need them. 

Teach them that death is a serious thing, 

and to be content to never leave their homes. 

Even though they have plenty 

of horses, wagons and boats, 

they won't feel that they need to use them. 

Even if they have weapons and shields, 

they will keep them out of sight. 

Let people enjoy the simple technologies, 

let them enjoy their food, 

let them make their own clothes, 

let them be content with their own homes, 

and delight in the customs that they cherish. 

Although the next country is close enough 

that they can hear their roosters crowing and dogs 


they are content never to visit each other 

all of the days of their life. 

The practice of peace 

When people are able to meld their passion 
and responsibility, to focus on what gives 
life and is right before them, they set to 
work. And when the invitation is to work 
to contribute to good, their work becomes 
the practice of peace. 

Open Space can be the pure practice of 
peace. Holding space can be the highest 



True words do not sound beautiful; 
beautiful sounding words are not true. 
Wise men don't need to debate; 
men who need to debate are not wise. 

Wise men are not scholars, 

and scholars are not wise. 

The Master desires no possessions. 

Since the things she does are for the people, 

she has more than she needs. 

The more she gives to others, 

the more she has for herself. 

The Tao of Heaven nourishes by not forcing. 

The Tao of the Wise person acts by not competing. 

Give it away 

Harrison Owen released Open Space to the 
world. With few words and a wave of the 
hand, he offered it to all. 

Take a lesson from him. Give more than 
you are willing to and set your highest 
work into the world, so all may benefit 
from the spaces you will hold so 


Acknow ledgments 

— To Caitlin, Aine and Finn for holding a space 
of deep love with me and for sharing our 
practice ground together. 

— To my Open Space teachers Harrison, 
Michael, Lisa, Birgitt, Peggy, Toke, Larry and 
Father Brian. 

— To the world community of Open Space 
facilitators who continue to inspire, humour 
and offer themselves so beautifully to this 

Find out more about Open Space Technology at 
http:/ ' 

Please, pass this on.